Horse Thief Canyon

Whether you are enjoying the view from the parking lot or immersing yourself in an hours-long hike, the badlands of Horse Thief Canyon in Alberta are spectacular. It’s a place where you can easily and happily lose track of time and if there’s no distraction from other visitors you can really get into the feeling of being on some other kind of planet.

Is this still Canada?

The good ol’ badlands are a unique environment in the nation and distinguished by what they lack: vegetation, regolith (fancy geological term for the top surface layer on the ground such as mud, dirt, or sand), and in stark contrast to its surrounding prairieland, flatness. The striped and sloped terrain that’s so much fun to explore has been shaped by millions of years of erosion from wind and water.

Take that, creationists!

That’s right, there was water in them thar hills! A mighty inland sea used to exist between the canyon walls, which accounts for why so many marine vertebrate fossils have been located in nearby Dinosaur Provincial Park along with, obviously, dinosaurs. It was probably a good PR move to focus on the discovery of 75 million year old dinosaurs rather than the prehistoric clams which were also discovered. I’m looking at you, Irving Nature Park.

“Don’t forget to visit the claaaam fossssilllls” *hiss*

So what else do we know about badlands? According to Wikipedia “the word comes from the compounding of the English words ‘bad’ and ‘lands.” Glad we could clear that up. The name Horse Thief Canyon however, seems to be rooted in a nebulous local story about equine thievery in the days of colonialist ranching rather than in historical fact. But it is fun to think about horses disappearing into the canyon only to come out of it marked with *gasp* different brands!

This place is so incredible I just want to shut up about it and post a bunch of photos, so here we go.

If you find yourself near Drumheller in the summer and decide to go hiking in the canyon, at the minimum bring along some water, a hat and sunscreen because there is very little shelter out there. If you are a tiny child or a person with mobility issues stick to the parking lot because sections of the trails have steep loose slopes and some viewpoints are only accessible via inelegant climbing techniques. If you’re one of those “flower people” and want to see the northern cactus in bloom aim to visit in late June to July. And lastly, leave your horse at home.